KEY TEXT: 1 Peter 3:15-17 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
KEY THOT: Suffering is a testimony when we suffer because we are doing good--without repaying "evil for evil or insult with insult" (v. 9) but blessing those who persecute us. When pre-believers witness such strange behaviour, they are likely to become curious to know the hope that keeps our heads up under such emotional and physical pressure. However, if we are reviled for doing wrong we have nothing to rejoice. Or when we are persecuted for doing right but instead of blessing, we repay our persecutors "evil for evil or reviling for reviling" then we too have no testimony. Pre-believers observing our negative reaction would not be provoked to ask us the reason for our hope--for we have displayed none in our negative reaction to pain.
In order that we may be able to make a meaningful "defense" (apologia), we have to first "regard Christ the Lord as holy" in our hearts. NIV translates this as "in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord". Going to church is not the same as setting apart Christ as Lord. The Lordship of Christ implies a life of obedience to His commands as recorded in the Gospels.
Secondly, when we are called to give a reason for our hope, we are to do so with "gentleness and respect" (v.15). We are called to respond to seekers with gentleness and not in anger. Also we are called to speak with respect, showing due regards to the seeker's current belief systems and worldviews. We can compare and contrast the biblical worldview with the seeker's non-biblical worldview but we must not be condemning or criticising their belief systems as we give an answer in defense of the Gospel.
The Gospel gives us an entire new view of reality, a comprehensive worldview about fundamental questions of life: who am I? where did I come from? where am I going? how should I live? how do I know what is true? what is ultimately real in this universe? The answers to many of these questions may unsettle or challenge the seeker's own presuppositions. So, we must be gentle and respectful even as we contradict the unbiblical presuppositions held by the seeker. But we must not shy away from giving a proper and comprehensive response, for Christianity is not just a religious outlook but a holistic and realistic worldview.
Three things mark a good defense of the Gospel: living under the Lordship of Christ, responding to queries with gentleness and showing respect to the seeker's current belief systems. The best approach to defending the Gospel is to speak the truth in love.
Father, may You always be Lord of our hearts so that when called to give an answer, we may do so with gentleness and respect, not in anger or arrogance. Amen.